The Woman Magician by Brandy Williams

The Woman Magician
Brandy Williams
Llewellyn Publications, 2011
365 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

The Woman Magician was born from the author’s experiences with the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), Golden Dawn and Thelema, in which she felt that, as a woman, she was not a magician in her own right, due to the emphasis on the male as the director of energy. Drawing on her feminist beliefs and knowledge of women’s history, experiences and needs, the author sought to create a workable tradition for the woman magician, a Magia Femina.

The first part of the book explores the history of the O.T.O., Golden Dawn and Thelema in relation feminism and the needs of its woman-identified practitioners. Williams recounts her personal experience as a Priestess in each order, particularly her responses to the standard rituals. She then moves on to discuss how women have come to be spectators rather than participants in the Western Magical Traditions, via the exploration of tradition, culture, history, philosophy, theology and magic. Each chapter introduces the reader to a personification of the concept, initially contacted by the author via meditation.

The second part combines her knowledge of Western Magical Traditions with her exploration of the above to create a tradition that is empowering to women, putting them in the role of magician rather than spectator. As the book reaches its conclusion, the author attempts to reconcile her feminist ideals with her relationship with the tradition, as personified by the deity/entity named Lady Tradition.

Initially, the writing struck me as intellectual, thorough and well researched. The author has clearly not simply read a book or two, but critically analysed the contents of many. She draws from a wide variety of sources and is careful to either avoid any dubious sources or to make mention of concerns before explaining why she has included them in her writing.

Additionally, her conclusions are enlightening and had me making note of topics I’d like to explore further down the track. This is not a quick, light read for a rainy day; this is a deep, ponderous work.

The magical system suggested seems workable and sensible for a modern Witch. The rituals are touching and empowering but confronting enough to help the woman grow as a magician and as a person. Having personally participated in a similar ritual based on Inanna’s descent to the Underworld, I can attest to the power of such a rite. I also found the final initiation, the Initiation of the Sun, to be particularly moving. I can imagine the pride a magician might feel at its culmination.

Of course, no book is without its flaws. As I said, it is a meaty book that can’t be read in one sitting. That in itself is not a flaw, however given the weight of the book, I got the impression that there was a lot of assumed knowledge expected of the reader. Although many rituals and aspects of Western Traditional Magic were explored, not all concepts and symbols were not sufficiently explained for one new to the path. Explanations given seemed almost like a reminder overview. This didn’t lessen my appreciation of the author’s work, however it did leave me confused and needing to look things up at times. This is most notable during discussions of the Qabalah. Although vital aspects were explained in detail, some of the concepts introduced to help explain the Qabalah also needed to be explained, as they are not, in my opinion, general knowledge in the same way casting a circle or the Goddess may be in Pagan/magical circles.

I also noticed a couple of points where the author didn’t fully represent a Goddess or myth or got some facts wrong. For example, she lists Áine (sometimes spelled Aine, without the accent on the A) as simply the name Patricia Monaghan gave to the fairy queen and Goddess of spring. However, Áine is an Irish Goddess of midsummer, wealth, love and fertility, who is sometimes counted as a fairy queen and a Goddess of sovereignty. Though the ritual in which Áine appears still manages to be effective, I feel it would have been improved with a fuller, more accurate representation of the deity.

Overall, Williams has written an interesting book and a genuinely inspiring, inclusive magical system that could be enjoyed by women of different levels of experience and background.

Four pawprints out of five.

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A Guide to Pagan Camping by Lori Dake

A Guide to Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks and Trappings
Lori Dake
Rotco Media, 2011
208 pages

My first question about this book is: why didn’t anyone write it before? I mean, really: outdoor festivals have been a part of neopagan culture for decades, and everyone gets their initial trial by (camp)fire, especially if this is their first time sleeping in a tent. But there are also a number of considerations that are unique to the festival environment (and not limited to just pagan festivals) that you won’t find in just any old book on camping.

There’s really only room for one book on this rather niche topic, and thankfully for we the readers, Lori Dake is right on target with this one. She covers pretty much everything you need to know for your first few festival outings, from what to wear and what your basic kit should be for camping, to good etiquette that doesn’t shy away from things like skyclad attendance, or festival hookups. Of course, even if you aren’t a newbie to festivals, there may be useful info if you decide to expand the nature of your participation beyond “festival attendee”. As a longtime vendor at events, I can say that she did a thorough job with the vending section, especially in as small a space as she had for it (instead of writing an entire book, which is entirely possible). And there are good tips for performing, giving workshops, and other participation that newbies may not necessarily feel ready for. Also, festival folk of any vintage may find the generous selection of camp-friendly recipes and related info helpful.

It’s a well-written book overall, and I found very little in the way of typos. I wasn’t crazy about the layout; the sans serif font chosen would have been better for something like a term paper, and the spaces between paragraphs don’t look as professional as simply indenting new paragraphs. The cover art and layout scream “small press”, which (as you may know from my background) isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but it also could have been more polished.

Still, this is a case of not judging the book by its cover. This is a definite gem, and I highly recommend it for festival folk across the board, whether pagan or not. Well done!

Five campfire-smoky pawprints out of five.

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Facing North Reviews

For those who don’t know, I’ve been a reviewer with Facing North from its inception. Webmistress and author Lisa McSherry started it as an online database of reviews of esoteric texts; while I’ve shared some of my reviews from here over there, I also have some that are unique to that site. Here are the links to what I have there at this point:

The Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer
Your Altar by Sandra Kynes
Wisdom Walk by Sage Bennett
Pagan Prayer Beads by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn
The Bitch, the Crone and the Harlot by Susan Schacterle
Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
When Fear Falls Away by Jan Frazier
Circle, Coven and Grove by Deborah Blake
Moon Days by Cassie Primo Steele

I strongly suggest checking out Facing North, as well as the other reviewers I have linked on the left sidebar.

Magickal Connections – Lisa McSherry

Magickal Connections: Creating a Lasting and Healthy Spiritual Group
Lisa McSherry
New Page, 2007
253 pages

This is the newest of a number of books that have come out in recent years on effective creation and management of pagan and occult groups. The author has been the high priestess of an online Wiccan coven for the better part of a decade, and speaks with good authority on the topic.

There’s a LOT of good material in here. McSherry blends straightforward advice, anecdotes, and exercises and rituals to aid the reader in hir endeavours. She’s adamant about the fact that starting a coven (or any other group) is not an easy task, and any HP/S is in for a LOT of work, even if s/he does manage to find people to distribute the work among. However, for those willing to take on the work of leading and administrating a group, there are some definite gems in this book.

Where she really shines is communication. A lot of the reason for the success or failure of any group, pagan or otherwise, is the communication involved. McSherry covers many angles of the emotions involved, as well as techniques for more effective communication, both in person and online. And, true to her first book, The Virtual Pagan, she does offer particular advice for cyber covens, though I’d also recommend her earlier book for a more in-depth view.

Do be forewarned–although the cover says that the book covers “groves, covens, temples, and magickal families”, a lot of the material is more “coveny”. This is understandable given McSherry’s extensive experience in a coven setting. However, those who are interested in starting magical orders or other types of non-coven group may want to supplement their research with materials that are more specific to their type of organization. (Don’t skip over this book, though–the more general information is very worth it!)

My only other complaints have nothing to do with the author and everything to do with the publisher. I found a number of typos throughout the book; another copy edit may have cleaned those up. However, the real downer is the actual physical quality of the book–the paper for both the pages and the cover is incredibly thin, enough that you can see the next page faintly through it. And the ink on some of the pages is smudged. The layout and cover design, on the other hand, are excellent, and easy on the eyes.

But don’t let the paper quality deter you–this is a wonderful book, and a must-have if you’re thinking of starting a coven. Reading this and using the advice given should help nip a lot of problems in the bud.

Five pawprints out of five.

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